This is a story if you like about a message in a bottle
The account of various men and women who are alcoholics and who I have called for the purpose of this book ,Steamboats .
Each Chapter is dedicated to a particular Steamboat .
Poems To Share
By Paul McCann
This book is dedicated to a group of alcoholics who I call Steamboats.
In writing this book I did years of research and lived in many places around the world . From the gutter to the street . From the street to the bed sit flat .
From that to different homes and shelters . In every place I roamed the story remained the same . Alcoholism and its victims . To live as a Ghetto man you meet all kinds of people who in turn lead you to others . It’s a sad picture but a real one . The story of the Steamboat is one that the world doesn’t want to hear . It is too hard as issue to cope with . It is hard to tell but I believe it is an important story of life .
It is in their memory that I have written for each of them a chapter.
To keep their identities safe I have changed each of the names so as not to offend anyone .
Read their stories and find out what makes them tick.
Steamboats are men and women who I have met and lived with.
They are young and old.
At the time of writing most of them are slowly dying.
Even for the reformed steamboats the damage has been done.
Alcoholics by nature or habit they have lost their lives to the drink.
In and out of hospitals and prisons.
Back and forward they travel between refuge centers and the gutters.
They are oppressed depressed and persecuted. They hated by all who cannot understand why they have become a drunk. Most people fail to see behind the cold walls of anger that the Steamboat erects because fragility and insecurity lie there. You will always know a drinker when they come into town form they are always on their own with a bottle in their hand and a clenched fist in the other.
The anger they have is a mixture of self-pity and guilt but somehow the steamboat has a heart if you can only look for it.
I call them a Steamboat.
They are an accident of their ancestors.
They are the benefactors of a disease and also the recipients.
Not of their own choice but in a lot of cases the bottle has chosen them.
There are also Steamboats who choose to lead the life of a drunk.
For whatever reason they have self inflicted themselves.
Professional people who live the life of a secret drinker and the social drinkers who fool themselves by drowning their sorrows sometimes end up drowning themselves in a steamboat on a rough sea.
Many of steamboats I have known have had a family to support them.
Many of steamboats end up leaving their families for the drink.
I hope you enjoy their stories and one by one I will try to give an accurate account of their lives.
A Scoundrels Story
This first story is set in the black and beautiful suburb of Hackney in East London . Somewhere south of the Wild West End and North of the Thames
Is where you’ll find Joe locked up inside his bed sit flat .
Imagine if you can a pressure cooker inside your head.
The flame of burning of alcohol ignites a fire that consumes all life .
This recipe for disaster is a living reality for the Steamboat .
While all that is cooking more and more things are often thrown into the pot .
These other ingredients of life are the beefs of broken relationships,
That slowly stews away . The big chunks that stick in the throat sometimes are too hard too swallow and regularity require a good wash with something hard and fast.
No one is able to understand what made it all happen after the decks are cleared but the results are often the same .
One of the biggest Steamboats I ever met was a half Jewish cockney .
Names are not that important in this book and so we will call him Joe .
You can call Joe Henry if you like he won’t mind in fact it doesn’t even
Mater if he is Jewish or not anymore . What really matters is that he is an alcoholic . From time to time Joe the half Jewish cockney lived in a small upper class flat in a low part of Hackney in East London.
Searching for company most of the time Joe drifted back and forward to
his local pub . He was haunted by the ghosts of his past and suffered from paranoia and guilt . Joe is a scoundrel of the ghetto and makes no apology for his condition . Research at Guys Hospital proved that Joe had been affected
with alcoholism from birth .The truth of it is Joe was diagnosed to be an
alcoholic from birth . He inherited this condition in his genes . It goes three generations back to the first born son on his fathers side . Then it returns every three generations . Tracing back through his family history there are a long list of alcoholics in his ancestors .
When I met Joe he was dying .
It was 1988 when I moved in with him and captured his story .
The small flat where we lived was surrounded by nineteen hundred and fifty thousand other high rise council flats . Give or take a few hundred people the area was made up of West Indian and Pakistan emigrants who were now the local breed of people . More and more of the London cockney class had been pushed away from their territory . Joe was always angry about that .
Joe was always angry about a lot of things actually .
He was angry about the remorse he felt every day .
He was angry about God and angry because he didn’t believe in God.
He was angry that you even mentioned God in any conversation .
He was angry with life .
Joe lived behind the stone walls of a prison cell but never once did he desire to break free from the chains that kept him prisoner .
His flat resembled a cave in the inner depths of a mountain .
I pulled my hand in to grab him and he resisted .
Loneliness and bitterness eat away at the strands of his existence .
Memories and daily flashbacks had him terrified at night .
The first thing I had to do was make Joe understand where he was at .
Next I had to evict all of his previous flat mates like and Fire and Brimstone,
Who convinced him was as guilty as hell .
There were many dark strangers in the corners of his flat that waited to trip him up . The there was that Shaky Handed soldier with the cut throat razor .
Yes even though was unable to accept where he was at I was able to show him and offer a solution .
For six months we shared a lot of things and together we found a both friendship and fear .
Let me tell you about Joe the giver .
Seldom a taker was he .
Joe had learnt a lesson about taking long before .
When you’re a Steamboat life shows little respect but Joe deserves some .
At sixty seven Joe was finished . He had chronic liver disease and not much left to live for . The pressure cooker had done its job and Joes steam had run dry . Joe was now having his last rounds .
I sat in front of him as he lay down on the sofa bed and asked ,
“Joe when did you start drinking heavy ?“
“ Since about twenty one .“ He said with a real wanting to talk some more about those days , so I got up and put the kettle on . When the mood was right he loved a cup of strong tea . I brought the tea to him and put it on the dining chair that was always in the same spot right opposite the sofa bed .
He left usually left the tea a while before sipping from it and so he sat up straight and started talking freely .
“I loved drinking . You see Paul there was I a C.I.B. man with the royal signal corps in the British Army .World war 2 was in progress. I was also a Captain in the infantry in my youth and so at twenty one I had enough spunk to take on the world . I had special privileges in the officers mess in every station where I was sent to in Europe . So it was easy for me to get tanked up at any time or in any place . I was multilingual and used this to my advantage .
I often took over pubs and commanded my authority in the quiet corners of Europe . I had my own car and my driver who was called Jock brought me any where I asked . Jock liked a drink as well which reminds me of the day
When Jock and I where at the Dutch frontier and we passed this little alehouse . I gave Jock the nod and told him to leave the rest to me .
Jock followed me into the pub . I spoke in German and ordered two beers .
The little alehouse was empty of customers and there was a thick covering of dust on the tables and chairs . This dumb looking publican came out and tried to come the heavy with me . He answered sharply and told me that they it was forbidden to sell drink because of the war . He tried to tell me that the Germans had confiscated all his kegs . He muttered and muttered away trying to make a point . I took one step back and winked at Jock and lifted my
Sten gun and began spraying bullets all through the place . I spat on the floor after smashing every mirror and window in the place . Jock then joined in and began to fire in rapid bursts . We stood there and continued shooting until
Our magazines were empty . It was a hell of a demonstration we had made .
When it was all over I asked the landlord again for two beers .
Within sixty seconds he opened up the cellar and up came keg after keg .
Jock and I stayed and drunk the lot . Then we asked for the rest of what he had . Out came the bottles of Gin, Vodka and Whisky . You name it and we had it .Jock and I sat and drank there for quite a long time . Before we left we packed full cases of liquor into the jeep . Most of this we sold on the black market . Speaking fluent German made it easy for me to make a few quid on the side around Europe . The Germans only knew me as a hawker and I often sold them cigarettes coffee sugar and soap . During the war I made a good living for myself out of this . I never knew the depression and I never cared for anything except a drink . I remember one day when I was half full of drink and I delivered a consignment of cigarettes to this doctor who often treated me for VD . During the transaction a Russian MP spotted what was going on . He approached me and told me to Sticken-me-handze up . I raised both my hands in the air and as he came over and looked at my face . I caught him off guard and seized his gun from him . Then I finished him off with my Browning 32 . The Doctor looked worried and asked me what was I going to do with his body and I answered him with the same question he threw at me . We both buried him and then I left the doctor in his surgery . Jock was still waiting in
The jeep unaware of what had happened . I had lots of scams happening .
I used to collect empty tank shells for this German scrap merchant .
I made thousands of pounds on that little number . Another little money spinner I had came from my Father who sent me regular payments while I was serving with the army during the war .
Finally when the war was over we had this massive celebration . The party went on all over Europe . In Brussels pints were going for ten francs with Dolly Birds on your knee for free . I told them to go and sit with the Yanks . I had been taken once too many by these gold digging dolly birds . As far as I was concerned they were just the scum of Europe .
Where ever you went there was a party . People were out and about .
I remember one night after a few I was on my way to the toilet .
Well there was I well blocked with a full head of steam trying to get up these stairs . It was a slow journey to the gents . As I made my way back down the stairs again I bumped into these two American officers who were on their way up . They refused to move out of my way . In fact they never intended to budge so I pushed them back down the stairs again and made a quick exit .
The next thing the pub was in an all in brawl .
I got well off side when three Flemish police officers arrived with their sub machine guns drawn .
I returned to my wife and three children in England .
Sheffield was a cold place to come back to .
I kept thinking about my wild frolics during the war .
Now that I was a civilian again things were falling back into place .
I returned to my profession as a draftsman where I managed to acquire
A new position with an American firm based in Amsterdam .
I was able to come home to England every weekend which was good because the boss hounded me in the office and I needed to get away .
The office in Amsterdam was closing in on me day by day and the boss
Continued to give me a real hard time . I began to have some liquid lunch breaks at The Grand Briz . The Dutch courage I got there pulled me through the day .More and more I got myself a belly full and eventually the boss began to lock himself away in his office at lunch time .This was the trend for about six months until the day I let him have it . I swung back and hit him with my two clenched fists . I lost my job but felt good for decking him .
I took on another position in Germany . Speaking fluent German made life a breeze for me there . I got along well with my employer who also liked to have a drink . From time to time we went out together to the festivals there .
There was always a festival in Germany . They were as regular as the rain .
It constantly poured down from the sky . Apart from the rain I all year through I was well watered . I was often seen pissing from the fourth floor down on the heads of the marching bands that paraded past below the office .
I loved to tap dance on the tables of the cafes in the main street .
The open air cafes were always busy places at lunch time and that’s when I went tap dancing . I was always steamed . Life for me was just one huge unending party . I was enjoying myself but my employer wasn’t able to keep up. Things started to get a little uneasy and so I ended up leaving the job in Germany . There wasn’t any love lost between the employer and myself .
Another job was offered to me in Belgium by an American oil surveyor who had an operation in Bruges . I began working in the engineering side with this American company . The first night I was out having a few drinks in the pub . Minding my own business when a kombi van pulled up outside .
The van was full of Flemish police . Five army style looking cops fell into the pub with their weapons extended .All the patrons had to line up at the bar with sub machine guns pointed at our heads we were told to get down on the floor
I stood there with a few friends and spoke French offering to buy the pigs a round of drinks . I tried to keep calm and remain on the right side of the law .
It seemed to pay off . The pigs dropped their guns and let us all sit back down at our tables .
After a while in Bruges I arranged to bring my eldest son Maurice over for a while . He came over to stay with me . Maurice brought over his Irish friend Ian who wanted a change of scenery . They both moved in with me and we had a great time . Ian was about six feet seven and build like a mountain .
He was barrel shaped and as solid as a lead sandbag if you get the picture .
After he had a few drinks you would be well advised to keep out of his way .
One night we went out for a few but things turned ugly when some drunk punched Maurice . So I got stuck in and so did Ian . It was boots and all .
The pigs arrived with their sub machine guns pointing at us .
Maurice Ian and myself were arrested and taken away . I let them have a mouthful of abuse which extended our stay in jail .
The Belgium cell contained us for three weeks . We slept on a concrete mattress and endured constant harassment . It quite clear to us with the rough treatment and lack of compassion that were not well liked .
I made it clear to them that I was a British Citizen and I demanded to be set free . If they refused to comply I threatened that I would contact the British Embassy . Finally they let us go . We all left Belgium and I returned to my wife in England and tried to settle down . It was becoming very hard to hide the fact that I was a hard drinker . The wife kept stumbling across my hidden bottles that I had planked around different cupboards in the house .
It was nearly impossible to live with the wife with her constant nagging .
One night after a few drinks I hit her . It was just a tap on the nose but she went and had a hemorrhage and died shortly afterwards in hospital .
After this I couldn’t live with myself . Nobody or nothing could get anywhere near me except for the drink . Most of the time drink kept me pretty sane .
Time and time again I promised to quit the drink .
I got to the point were I couldn’t live with the drink anymore because of what it made me do . So I gave up the drink and remained an alcoholic .
I had put the kids in different homes and ended up in poverty .
The kids grew up tormented with memories of their dad .
My life had fallen apart .
One of the kids my daughter got married and went to live in Canada .
One of the boys got married and went to Romford and the other as far as I know married a black geezer .
Maurice married an Irish girl after I hit him with the butt of my Walther PPK one night in a drunken fury . I never saw him as a helpless as that before .
There he was that night just lying there unconscious at my feet with the blood pouring from his head . Off and on the wagon I went.
I had a long fight with the demon drink .
Time off the wagon was brief compared with my times on .
More frequent was my time now in various institutions .
I was committed to drink and admitted more now to mental hospital where I fought on a constant basis with all of the staff . I was sick to death of their white coats, their attitude and their medications .
I was very angry now and one day I poured acid on the floor and walked out of the hospital . I spent two years as a bum and slept out on Hampstead Heath getting madder at life everyday.
I tried to get my hands on a 32 revolver to get my revenge on this Black Indian nurse who had humiliated me in that hospital . Then I tried to do myself in by drinking two bottles of Martini . This attempt failed . I had no liver left at this stage . I played on the fact that the police wouldn’t pick on an old man and I gave them hell . Some of the things I said to them would turn your butter into sour cream . I was very clever even though I was mad . I found myself blacking out more often now . One day I fell out from a fifth floor window but I survived the fall . When I came to I found that my legs could no longer walk .
My liver was burned up completely and the welfare gave me a nice flat and supplied me with some home help once a week .
One day a young man was brought into my flat by one of the locals who knew me . The young man told me he was writing a book and wondered if it was possible to stay for a while with me in the flat .
I was glad of the company and we soon became good friends .
That young man was able to help me much more than he’ll ever know .
I hope he finishes his book and someone reads my story “.
Well that is the first Steamboat out and away .
I found Joe to be a truthful man who shared some very personal events of his life and his battle with the bottle .
For most of the time that I stayed with him he never once slept at night .
Many times I’d be wakened up in the middle of the night by him screaming .
He said it was flashbacks of all the terrible things he had done during his life .
The drink had left Joe nothing in life .
All he had now was a nightmare of what once was .
The substance of his existence had gone .
I knew Joe as an old Steamboat who’s steam had run dry .
Message In A Bottle
This next Steamboat comes from Northern Ireland . Once again his name has been changed to protect his identity . Hugo is his name and he ran a small business in Belfast . That’s how come I got to meet him in the first place .
Out of the blue one day he asked me to help him run his shop while he
Did some grocery shopping in town . As I was living nearby I said ok and
Looked after his shop until his wife took over later in the day .
I never suspected Hugo was a Steamboat until his need for assistance became almost a daily calling with me .
After a while I could see there was a problem .
It was the summer of 1989 when fate had decided that Hugo would move in with me . The fact was Hugo’s wife had taken all she could and could take no more . After she turned him out onto the street he ended up at my door .
Was it just by chance or destiny ?
It seems it could be yes to both and so I have another story to tell you .
Hugo O’Neil was a thin man with a baby face . His Irish complexion seemed slightly deceiving with the adage of his thirty eight years . Hugo was a family man when he was on the wagon but when he was off the wagon he was the Mr Hyde in the horror scene of a movie . Fuelled with alcohol Hugo wasn’t worth the salt his wife sprinkled on her vegetable soup .
As a hard drinker Hugo had a love for the social scene .
Getting out on the tear and into town was always the go .
He had an ability to talk and discovered a desire to be seen doing so.
He had sought exits out from life and with drink he was able to cope with problems when ever life threw them his way .
Even though Hugo has his own answer still the question remained .
It was a message in a bottle . Sadly no one else could read it as well as he could and when I met Hugo he needed to read the message everyday .
Eventually the day came when he read the message and it said that there was no answer to be found . Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies and so I was told Hugo’s history during the five months he lived with me .
Say hello to Hugo and leave goodbye for another day .
Put your feet up and read the lunatic story of Hugo’s exit from life .
”Do you see Mad Dog Tucker well I’ll tell you at fifteen I was as mad as
he ever was and Tucker who is twice my age is still only half as smart as me .
My Clan are the O”Neils and we’re all fond of a drink but of all the O’Neils there’s none so fond of the drink as I am . Like yesterday I can still remember sitting there in the Park on Friday nights as drunk as a skunk with a Scrumpie bottle on my knee . I was a wild child at fifteen and my memories of fights on Friday nights are still as real to me as the football I played on the Bone hill .
I can tell you were the main men . I was with the bold mob as we were called We were all heavy drinkers before our teenage years . We were rough and ready for anything then . On the edge of a session there was always a song or two or a poem that would present itself . We made the words up ourselves and then we would wash them all down the throat with bottle after bottle and it was the measure of a man not to throw it all up .
There we would be . The wild bunch of hard cases . The sailors all at sea
without a care in the world . People such as the likes of us you would never see again . We were the ones who could change the world . Yes as sure as my names Mick I don’t know how the world ever got by without us .
We were all in a gang joined together by the connection of drink .
It’s a wonder we had our sanity intact after all those Fridays nights .
I don’t know how we never got sent to a lunatic asylum back them .
I still get half tore just thinking about it .
You could bet your life that some of our never even recalled what happened
The night before the day after .Saturdays mornings usually came and found some of us still in the shed at the park connected to an empty bottle of scrumpie cider .With no knowledge of what had happened the night before we made our way home as always very loose and lubricated .
I grew up as one of the boys in the mob . I was a well liked lad by all those who meant something . I could have been anything to anybody but I dedicated my life to the drink . It was my decision and hard as it was I had made up my mind to spend the rest of my life on the drink .
It really wasn’t that hard a decision and in the back of my mind there was a get out of jail free card . Even though I realized then I couldn’t turn back down a straight road It never worried me one bit .
Why wasn’t I bothered ?
WelI I just couldn’t contemplate a life without drink and that’s when I realized that I was on the road to self destruction .
The thing is I didn’t want to go down alone and so I went out to find company
In the night life . I can remember sitting around in The Plaza Ballroom
Feeling as if I was a pilgrim on a wagon train looking for company in a
Big open spaces . It was there at the Plaza Ballroom that I met my wife .
It was as if suddenly the Calvary rode in and threw me a life line and without firing a single shot I watched all the Indians burn their tee pees at sunset .
I never explained to my wife that I had a drink problem and tried to sit down with her and all the rest of the pilgrims looking for another drink .
I knew It was going to be difficult but I threw all my cares to the wind .
I concealed my drink problem from Maggie very well I thought .
The drink was like a worm on a hook for me and I swallowed whatever came my way . Most of the time I felt as if I was a drowning man at sea clutching on to straws just to keep afloat in a crazy gasping for life .
Maggie soon woke up to me after too many late nights and not enough sober days . I had always another good excuse for getting drunk .
When we drifted apart she pulled it all together again .
All for the sake of our three of kids who had grown up so fast .
Apart from Maggie worried about me my Mother was in such a mess .
Each time I was admitted to hospital for detox she prayed it would be
the last . One of the last times I was in hospital was about 1964 .
After I jumped out of a fourth floor window and broke my ankles they asked me why I had jumped . All I could tell them was I wanted to get a drink .
The doctor had told my wife and Mother at this stage that If I never stopped drinking I would be dead in six months .
They tried very hard to convince me and in fact I almost began to think about trying to quit but suddenly then the troubles erupted in Belfast . It was 1968 and petrol bombs and Cs gas flew through the tiny streets of my village .
There was rioting every day and night . The tragic thing about this situation was it presented me with a new reason to hit the bottle and I did so in a major way just like the violence had arrived in a big way so did my new bout of heavy drinking . It was 1968 and all hell broke loose .
Between the devil and the deep blue sea the Captain and the crew had all but deserted me and I had been thrown overboard into the depths of despair . Either you sink or swim . I was just trying to keep afloat . I hit the ballroom floors and danced with tears in my eyes . All the girls thought I was a great dancer . They thought I was the best looking fella in town . They thought I was the best catch around . Yes me Hugo the lad was I .
None of them knew I was a drunk most of the time . None of them had the faintest idea of the workings going on inside my head . If I wasn’t drunk then I was looking at ways to get drunk . I lived in a world that kept me blind and confused to the real issues of life .
One day I woke up near Cave Hill with an empty bottle in my hand . The bottle was covered in blood and there was another man at my feet with his head all opened up . I just sat there as the wind blew cold and the rain was like ice on my face . I never knew what had happened and brushed it off as if nothing had taken place . I tried about a dozen times to stand up and walk away . In the end I kind of swayed back and forward up the road still clinging
On to the empty bottle . I was almost sober when I got home . Maggie never opened the door most times now and I lost count of how many broken windows there had been . The neighbours were sick and tired of me screaming out but I didn’t care . All I was after was a few quid to buy another drink . Maggie watched me slip further and further away into the bottom of a bottle . I found it hard to remember what the kids looked like and even forgot
How I appeared myself . Somehow I was able to justify all I did . I was the man with the answers for I was able to read the message in the bottle .
The word was meant only for me and nobody else .
It wasn’t long until I forgot my way home . I couldn’t say when or how but my memory went . I had to knock on peoples doors to ask if they knew where I lived . Most people either said in one of the pubs or clubs around town . I in turn went off to find it but nothing really made sense anymore .
It never really mattered where I slept because I slept where ever I fell .
Thinking was something I couldn’t do anymore . Concentration was all but was gone from me now . My entire focus and energy was directed to drink .
I was still able to justify everything in my own mind . I still regarded myself as the most popular kid in town . Everybody bought me drinks because I begged for money on the corner . All the women would go out of their way to talk with me . Most of them full of abuse and scorn . To me I was still the main man . The center attraction . But who was I trying to kid . I took a long look at myself and got very angry with the person I saw . I began to pick fights with strangers for no purpose and my temper exploded on anyone who got in my way .
Nobody could stop me from drinking and dancing .
I was thirty and attracted to men now . I undressed on the dance floor .
All the boys regarded me as a joke . They laughed and ignored me .
The girls walked off the dance floor and looked away .
Most of the time I was like the dregs of an unwanted bottle in the gutter .
I was just a dim light these days among the shinning stars .
I started to see things as they were and hit hard . The limelight was over and I had become a pain for others . I was a socials misfit now .The things I had blocked out flooded my mind and the message was clear .
I had to stop drinking . I was fading away into nothing .
Maggie and my mother had told me an ambulance had found me just in time .
I couldn’t even remember what had happened .
All I felt was shame but I had returned to life and asked my loved ones to help me cope with the guilt of my actions . They forgave me I suppose for my drink problem and stayed by my side until I came back to the family home .
Waiting there with my kids was Gerry my old school friend .
Gerry never married and I guess we never saw eye to eye on some issues .
The last time I saw Gerry was when he stood between Maggie and I ,.
I thumped him and told him to get out . Gerry came back with a carving knife and I grabbed a poker from the fireplace. There was nearly a murder that night . After that I never saw Gerry again until now . There he was with a welcome look on his face standing with my kids . You know I felt bad about so many things but Gerry put his arms around me and gave me a big hug .
I had red rashes all over my body . It was brought on by a case of bad nerves they said . My nerves were wrecked .
For about six months I sat and stared into a fish tank with the terror of the drink burning inside me . At night I lay down on the sofa and sometimes
Got up to bang my head on the floor . Apart from everything else I had a reasonable relationship with Maggie and the kids . We tried not to argue .
My mother worshiped the ground I walked upon . I could never do any wrong in her eyes . No one ever said a bad word about me in her presence .
In my absence and on my behalf she had spoken up for me .
She was always willing to open up new lines of communication and cherished me as her son . We saw a lot of each other the first year I was home .
The message arrived one day after a visit from the Doctor .
There was I lying face down on the sofa when he told me I had three months to live . I looked at the kids and my wife . It was just too much and I went out and ordered a drink down at the local . The church got wired off and it wasn’t long before the priest arrived trying to persuade me to stop drinking .Then
One by one in came the Cavalry . The milkmen and the postmen with the Butcher and the baker . Everyone tried to talk some sense into me .
It was my choice and as I looked into the bottom of a bottle the message was floating to the surface again . That night I walked the streets of my childhood and tried to remember the old songs I used to sing on Friday nights .
Those early days in the Park had made a big impression on my life . Somewhere there was a gap between then and now . In that gap a lot of things had been lost forever . There were scars that had never healed .
There was an emptiness that drink never filled . As I stood there drunk and lost in that space of my own making I spoke in silence to myself .
In the deathly silence no one answered and I walked home to my wife .
She had thrown everything I owned out onto the street and there was a note on the front door of the house .
The note said .
If you want to destroy the last moments of your life then do it by yourself . Its too late now for you . You never thought of anyone but yourself .
Go and leave us all alone for we have had enough of you .
I took the note in my shaking hands as tears fell from my eyes .
I don’t remember anything after that except knocking on the door of a fella who had helped Maggie in the shop from time to time .
He opened the door and took me in . He and I became good friends and I shared my life story with him . He told me he was a writer and asked me if I minded being included in a book he was writing .
I pulled the top of a beer can and drank the contents .
Maybe one day the contents of your book will be able to leave a message
for somebody . So its ok I said . Share my secrets for life is short .
Hugo left this world shortly after that .
I left Northern Ireland and wondered if he found an answer to life after all .
Steamboats For Company
It’s a far better place I think,
To be on a steamboat under the drink .
With Davy Jones and all his men ,
Peacefully under the watch of heaven .
Free at last and better off dead .
No sound of hangovers inside the head
God’s in heaven and all is well .
Steamboats for company under the swell .
By P McCann.Ó
Anybody with a bit of sense would wait until the storm has passed before setting out to sea in a boat . But what of the sailors already at sea caught up in a gale . The huge watery mountain at times is the test for a good ship and crew . It may be said that never is there a storm that has no quell .
It is also true that there are many big ships that end up having small days while some small ships have big days . It all about elements and conditions that suit . There is never a calm in a storm that has not been made welcome .
Where is the calm for those cargos of lost souls afloat on a hopeless sea .
Abandoned to the demon drink on a voyage with of side effects .
The crew of heartless derelicts are told not rock or to wreck the boat Steady as she goes . Some people take it while other people jump overboard .
The Captain is no stranger to a voyage up stream without a paddle and like a stranger on the shore he has often been .
Who can relate to a drowning man?
Only one who cannot swim or maybe another who is there to save him .
Who would see him drowned without throwing him a life line ?
A stranger on the shore too far away to help or a cruel monster with no heart .
If you have ever felt like a stranger on the shore then read on .
If you have ever tried to save a drowning man read on .
I would like to take you into a commune of homeless derelicts just a short walk away from Waterloo Station in London .
The Bullring by name home of life’s castaways in an ocean of tears and regrets . Cold concrete is a hard place for a bed .
Cardboard keeps out the cold .
In 1989 cardboard city was enigmatically erected under the grey concrete sky with a tumbled down over spilt landscape of humans surrounded by a city that drew more and more people into its bleak portrait .
Within few miles of the Bullring what a contrast there was in view to life .
From the bright lights of Leicester Square a huge magnet drew in the yuppie urban class into its arms . Party people danced the night away and echoed out the sounds of hip hop . Being upwardly mobile they converged in multitudes at acid houses all over Central London . This new attraction brought a raging night life in the jungle of the wild West End .
At this time I was not greedy just one of the needy and under fed .
I was one of the poor and oppressed majority .
Many of us lived with unwanted and neglected prisoners of a society where anger grew `towards the unfairness of homelessness people .
If you could have seen the sad sight you would have been wrapped up in the culture shock that ruled the residents of cardboard city .
Most of us felt the cold reality that no one cared .
Cardboard city was ten minutes walk from Buckingham Palace but may as well have been a million . The city streets were littered with people who slept in doorways as all the homeless refuges were full .
Some lucky people found squats, others slept in parks and on buses . I had met so many people who were abandoned themselves to alcohol and I was able to write down some of their stories.
Some of the characters of cardboard city were victims of circumstance with hungry bellies filled with fire and anguish .
Some of the older ones had an innocence and hopeless charm about them . Most had a hard edge because of the bitter plight of feeling downtrodden .
In London every day there were always muggings and bashings .
The finger was always pointed towards the residents of cardboard city .. Bombarded by the hate factor, the poor and helpless people of cardboard
city felt unjustly treated by individuals who seemed united in their fight to destroy any last strands of human dignity that remained .
There was a feeling of hopelessness and yet everyone bonded together like a family . It was uncanny . Sometimes our greatest strength comes when we are on our knees . Sometimes we find insight after we have been tortured by the pains of hunger and when we are at the mercy of others who wish to make our lives a dark and miserable existence . The people of cardboard were about as low as you could get . It wasn’t survival it was basically daily existence . The daylight hours brought the constant reminder of our unshaven and dirty faces . The clothes we wore seemed a little worse for the wear and it was impossible to keep hidden the inner self from further scrutiny .
During the day cardboard city was like an open wound that went under close inspection . Passers by never got too close just in case they were to get infected . Often they would run away in horror if one of the residents spoke to them . They feared being asked for money or even worse getting mugged .
Daytime hours disappeared and the darkness fell without a candle to light or a
flashlight to keep the shadows away .
When the dark night came down I found my self surrounded by the shadow world . In this place people clung on to their existence even though it seemed all hope had left . In this place of suffering we all held on to our thoughts like gulls grabbing their daily bread in an empty ocean .
Steamboats were a hard breed . They had to swim the tide .
We all had our own deep oceans and at night we lay in around Waterloo in cardboard boxes or in doorways . Because of numbers it was safer to sleep in cardboard city than in the doorways of shops .
Everyone had a dream to cling on to . They were our survival ropes .
In the dark night there is a noise called city life . It mingles with the inner sounds of the soul . Somewhere out there in the silence of this vast
cosmic consciousness the essence of life just happens to find where we are and relate back to us the wonder of it all . What a wonderful thing it is to find out that we are just a very small speck in an ocean of thoughts that meander across the universe . Sometimes within a great conscious mystery the reality of knowing ourselves lies between logic and something unexplainable . This understanding of the soul makes us an individual . I discovered myself there in this dark night it was a lonely picture that looked back at me .
I was able to see that others around me also embraced my hurt and rejection because they also understood this place where I was at and so that is why I understood the factors and behind the walls of injustice that imprisoned the souls of London’s lonely people .
They're locked up in empty rooms,
prisoners inside a shell .
Prisoners within corner blocks,
they're locked up in a cell .
The beggars cry with empty guts,
but no one hears that sound .
Busker's breaking the silence
singing in the underground .
Everyone is lonely
without friends to relate to.
Someone is dying,
someone is crying,
maybe it's you .
London's lonely people the hungry homeless breed .
London's lonely people passing by,
don't take any heed .
London is such a lonely place,
some people just pass through .
Prisoners in their empty rooms
with hearts broken in two .
By P McCann.Ó
And so each day comes and each day goes and all that lay within was an empty space . For the Steamboat the only thing that could fill that empty space was a bottle . Sometimes one bottle wasn’t enough so it took another and another until the day was done . Company was a big part of the void and the steamboats journey became a shared experience enjoyed by others .
The sad thing was the drink never filled the void it just made it less empty.
I believe God places a void in all of us . It is a void that only he can fill .
Many try alcohol or drugs . Some use the material things of this world to fill the void but it is impossible to ever feel satisfied by any of that .
I have known millionaires who have had everything they want and more and yet they are never happy . There is always some else they want .
That something else is Gods love and for many they can never discover it because so many other things are blocking it out .
The void is a space between me you and God .
Always and forever is God within man and woman Soul and body the heart and mind .
The grace of receiving a wonder of presence or occasion .
An unexplainable something beyond understanding .
Pathways overgrown in mystery beyond time In hanging gardens .
Secret wisdoms seeds sewn .
From things unseen are faith in deed and action .
God is good how true it is .
Miracles are there when God is commanding .
Commanding is God when there are miracles .
Is it true how good God is .
Action and deed in faith are unseen things from sewn seeds.
Wisdoms secret gardens
hanging in time beyond mystery in overgrown pathways .
Understanding beyond something unexplainable .
An occasion or presence of wonder .
A receiving of grace .
The mind and heart .
The body and soul .
Woman and man within God is forever and always .
By P McCann.Ó
At night the subways of London’s underground closed and as winter approached the streets became cold and desolate .
Even though the Bullring was more like a battlezone it was better than being isolated as a homeless person on the outer edge of things .Many though it was wise to keep within the confines of the Bullring . Anyone who ventured outside of the Bullring brought their own series of events . Once you left the Bullring you were usually forgotten about . The situation of homelessness was growing worst each day . In the Bullring the numbers grew and a cardboard box became a luxury item for some to have . The mobile van that brought hot soup ran the risk of getting ransacked at times . Alas for all who missed out on a paper cup of broth , The sun came through in the morning again as the people from the Bullring made their way to the pavements to beg for some spare change . The first rays of the morning sun were like a touch of heaven on numb hands and frozen feet . For many of the homeless begging became a regular way of life but problem because of the general attitude the public it became dangerous and difficult . Hard heads had moved in to the Bullring and the small community were being commanded and led like lambs to the slaughter house . Like some mad dogs foaming at the mouth the new rulers of the Bullring roamed around picking on anyone who was weak . These mad masters of drunks were control freaks that should have been kicked out the first day they arrived . From time to time serious fights erupted . It was a dog eat dog existence and every scrap of food was fought for . Every cigarette and every drop of brew was shared and divided up . Sometimes a hero would rise from the Bullring like Alec from Glasgow . He was permanently half doped up and half drunk but besides that he was a great artist . Alec took on the mad masters of the Bullring in brawl after brawl . It was all he knew how to do . Alec carried many scars and bruises . He also carried a knife and a thick Scottish accent . He could carve up your nose at the drop of a hat and forget what it was that made him do any of that .Though his hands drove a deadly blow to some at the same time that very same hand could do such beautiful work with crayons and pencils . There was one day Alec went too far . He took one of the bully boys and threw him into the Thames and later on paid the price for his deed . Alec was thrown out from the Bullring to fend for himself . I caught up with him Alec in the DHSS one day in East London and he was as always half drunk half doped up . He told me he had six different names and sis different address and signed on at six different social security offices in London . He went on to tell me about the new gaff he had and invited me to drop in to see him . Alec meant well but if you knew him like I did you just stayed clear of him . Alec was a talented artist who needed space and a lot of attention . His moods were as changeable as the big hand on a clock . Like a stick of explosive you would never be sure of the moment he would explode . Alec was a loner who needed time to find an escape hatch . Back at the Bullring there people were shifting in and out of shelters . The older Steamboats from the Bullring ended up at the Manna center and in some of the drop in refuges in and around London . I met Kenny by accident in St Martins of The Fields . Old Kenny was a Steamboat who had been in no fixed abode for most of his life . When people tried to speak with him he always used the same line of phrase which was that the blood of Jesus had never failed him yet . Kenny was an innocent wine drinker and a well known character on the street . He enjoyed singing and hoped one day to make a record . He said he would sing about Jesus . Once some people from the BBC recorded him on tape . The crew gave him five pounds for his short performance . After that Kenny episode Kenny wanted to make a movie and he was sure that Jesus would help him to be discovered . It wasn’t long after that when I had been told Kenny had died . Kenny never got to make a movie but I’m sure Jesus has a place for Kenny in the big picture of things . Jackie was another Steamboat who loved fires . At night he always lit one and the pity of it all was Jackie always seemed to roll himself into the flames . He had burns and scalds on him that would never heal . His anorak was a mass of singes and holes burnt by the hot ashes he slept with . One of Jackie’s biggest problems was that after a few drinks he went unconscious and never knew a thing until he awoke . By then the damage was done . He never spoke much and it was hard to get close to him . Some people said he was a bit Looney but who were they to judge him anyway . Jackie was harmless .
He spent a lot of his time in and around the hole in the wall pub in Mepham Street getting handouts and draining some the half empty glasses when no one was looking .
Day after day you would smell him before you would see him . Jackie always had a reek of stale urine about him that was potent enough to ward off any one from getting too close . Most people often turned away in disgust except for Margie who was a resident of the bridge in Waterloo . Margie pushed around a shopping trolley with everything she owned . Some old clothes and a blanket or two . Margie was a female steamboat who drank the day into the night . God knows how she loved the smell and the sight of Jackie . They spent many good times together sharing sips from the same bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag . After finishing their session Margie would throw an old scarf over her silver tattered hair and wander off in a dream somewhere between the sunset and tomorrow . Margie often slept on a small piece of linoleum outside on the footpath at 235 Waterloo Road . It made me angry when I saw the hopelessness on her face . Maybe it was a disbelief in people or life but what ever made her look that way made me upset . God knows what things Margie kept bottled up inside her . I’m sure her days on this earth were almost over and I wondered who would get her shopping trolley when she died . I kind of hoped they would put it in with her in some paupers grave on the far side of Victoria Station . If anyone could give you a reason to carry on with life it would have to be Margie . She could change your outlook let me tell you . Margie had made her home on the street and had two friends . She loved the drink and her homeless companion Jackie. There were not many who Jackie spoke to apart from Margie . Jackie grunted a lot . If you lived on the street you could quite easily become like an animal . People who loose their dignity quite often degrade themselves . They don’t feel human at times and that’s why Jackie would just grunt like a pig as he wandered around the arches under the influence , under the bridge at Waterloo . Jackie was under another law . He was a victim of self and like an animal he had imprisoned his self worth and dignity in a deep and dark dungeon on the outskirts of insanity . How easy it would have been to judge Jackie and hurl abuse at him . How hard it was to try to speak a kind word to him and ask if he was ok . The passers by who added their insults never really knew a thing about Jackie. The majority of them were just as bad if not worse . As I regularly saw him I felt the urge to speak to him . Eventually after months of trying to reach out Jackie opened up to me . We spoke about life on the street . The simple things added up to a lot .
I got close to Jackie and he trusted me . One evening as I sat with him by a small fire he told me about the story about two people he knew . So here is the story about Father Sean and Dublin Jack .
Like so many people in a hard port city who were brought up in poverty and
kept ignorant the only way to remain healthy back in the hungry years was a
life of petty crime . The hardest thing for many was to keep out of prison and
away from the court system .
For what it was worth in Dublin the only law and order was dished out by
some of those who would be seen as keepers of the city .
One of the things you learnt early in life was to find out what gang you
belonged to and who you hung around with .
Dublin gangs were as many as the corners in the city .
Dublin jack was part of the quiet ones who ran the bingo halls on the East
side and on Saturday they policed some of the local dance halls .
They never caused any trouble . In fact they were regarded by the local
People as Guardian angels .
I remember someone once had said that Dublin Jack controlled the bingo
numbers . There was a joke going round that Dublin Jack only called out the
bingo numbers in Latin so that the educated Catholic’s could win .
Now the local Parish priest Father Sean loved the Bingo and could play five
books himself at a time .
Before bingo he would often say ,
“Now Jack . Sunday will be only a day or two away . Ask some of the lads to
pass the plate around for me will you . By the way how are things at your
school . I’m a man of the world and soon you’re going to find out what
life is all about . The church needs good decent lads like you and I’m sure
you’ve got the right metal for to be a priest . Come and have a talk with me
after mass on Sunday. ”
“ Father sure you know my heart is wandering and Dublin is a place . Not that
I’m complaining like but God knows I want to get myself out of this .”
Father always had an answer ,
“ You’ll never hear me complain Jack . As bad and as dirty as Dublin City is .
Its our home lad . In fact Jack you are part of what makes this city tick .“
Jack was one of the quiet . As honest as the day was long . As time went on he saw most of his school friends leave on the boat across the water to finf their fortune in London . It was only a matter of time and Jack would do the same ,. Father Sean knew that and that’s why he persisted to ask Jack about becoming a priest . Father knew the dangers of a big City like London and wanted to protect Jack from all of that . After the hungry thirties there was a
desperation about Dublin .
It was about a year after Jacks father died that he decided to leave on the bait train . Father Sean saw Jack to the docks at Dublin and said a tough goodbye .
Dublin Jack soon made his way to London but was unable to find a place to live .The shelters were full and the charities had given up handing out penny lunches .London was like a hungry lion ready to devour anything in its sight .
The street people took Dublin Jack to their heart and introduced him to alcohol . Work was hard to find and Jack felt the cold through the holes in his clothing . Two years had gone by in London with no work and all that Dublin Jack looked for was another drink with his friends the street people .
He had no place to live but the park .
He had no hope except that of a drink .
He was complaining about life and for the first time questioned Gods love for him . Like a empty seat in a crowded stadium Dublin Jack watched life pass him by on a concrete seat outside the Oval Tube station . He would sit day after day trying to forget what it was that had brought him there in the first place . He smiled at the passers by who ignored him and his heart was bitter because of their attitude .
The business people leisurely strolled along the pavement all lived so far away from Jacks living hell . His nightmare had no escape apart from alcohol which set him free for a while .
One day in the manna centre Dublin Jack was told about a bus in Brixton where someone was handing out food and money to the needy .
Jack made his way there and eventually found the old London double decker bus . It had a sign on the bus that said ,
Meals On Wheels for the needy .
There was a queue of about a dozen men in the early morning waiting for a handout ., Dublin Jack got in the queue and when it was his turn to receive something Dublin Jack stood face to face with Father Sean .
Father Sean was speechless and quite upset when he saw Jack but he immediately realised he was in a position where he could help him .
“Thank God I’ve found you Jack we need you to call out the bingo numbers .
The dance hall needs fixing up and the worries of the young ones are sending boatloads across the water. Come home son and tell your story .
Tell them not to leave looking for work that doesn’t exist . Let them see how it is . Will you do that Jack ?”
Jack never spoke . He just stood there with his hand out stretched .
Father Sean took a prayer book from his pocket and placed it into his hand .
Jack walked away with his head down .
Father Sean went after him . He put his arm around Jack and said firmly ,
“Maybe you think running away is going to help you . Maybe you think God has forgot you . Maybe you don’t know who you are anymore . Well Jack just maybe you are wrong . Listen to me Jack read me a prayer from the book I gave you .Could you just try ?”
Jack opened the book and said the our father .
That evening Jack and father seam were on the boat heading back to Dublin .
On their return Jack was admitted into a hospital for some treatment .
It took six months but Dublin Jack beat the booze and ended up with a smile
Back on his face again.
Sure now wasn’t Father Sean’s prayers heard .
Jack finally became a priest and wasn’t he a popular one at that .
Now with a parish in a hard place Father Jack took all of his lifes experience and spat it out like fire upon the heads of the people who needed to hear his message . Apart from Father Sean now there was some one else looking out for Dublin Jack .
Jackie told me that Dublin Jack returned to London and worked for a while on his own mission . He often was seen picking up drunks around the city and providing them safe shelter and food . Jackie had been told that over the years Dublin Jack’s London visits slowly made an impact . Many of those who he had helped got back on their feet again and returned back into the workforce . Its wonderful what an act of kindness can do .
In London between 1989 and 1990 an exodus of young people had come to London in the hope of finding work . Like a chronic sickness on the street the young ones never found a job but they did find the drink and ended up part of the system like Jackie and even Dublin Jack had done .
There were others like Dublin Jack who came to the bright lights of London in the hope of getting into a job with bigger prospects and better money. Phil was a fresh faced fella from Cobh and wanted more from life than digging up spuds and feeding pigs on a farm . He saved his wages every week and decided to go to London and find a job that offered him a better future . Phil was a hard worker and got along well with the locals . Mr O’Driscoll who owned the pub in town told Phil all about London and gave him some contacts there . Phil spoke to the parish priest and asked his advice and Father Leo mentioned he had heard they were looking for some prison guards in Brixton and said he could write Phil a personal reference . Phil was excited about that and as soon as Father Leo had the letter written, Phil was on the boat train to London . With determination and hunger for work, Phil pushed his way into an interview with the prison board and with his good reference and positive initiative Phil landed himself the job .
It wasn’t just the case of putting on a uniform and starting work the next day there were certain procedures Phil had to go through first . There was the four week training course then the occupational health and safety programs followed by a first aid course and the exam and finally some social counselling and therapy skills programs .
Once these had been completed Phil began his career as a prison officer . The first day on the job was an education for him . The inmates had his number within the first ten minutes . Phil was a soft case and an easy touch . It was clear to see as he tried too hard to keep the peace and please everyone in the process . It seemed that the more Phil gave the more they took and the harder it became in the job . He wanted things to work out so that he made obstacles for himself without knowing . The warden seemed impressed by Phil and placed him in the lock up cage section where the real hard cases were kept . The long timers as they were called eyed Phil like a hungry den of lions looking at fresh meat .
On his first day on the block Phil put on a brave face and marched along the boardwalk back and forward and up and down the steel staircase .
He was looking efficient and in control but the inmates smelt his fear and saw his innocence and they cunningly began to test the waters . One of the older inmates called Frank called out .
“You couldn’t spare me a cigarette son could you ?“
Phil reached into his pocket and took out a packet of cigarettes . Taking one from the packet he reached it out and said ,
“Sure . Here take one .“
Frank grabbed it and said ,
“Have you got a light ?”
Phil took a box of matches and lit his cigarette . He looked into the old mans face who smiled and said ,
“Thanks . Hey you’re an ok screw .“
Phil softly laughed and said .
“The name’s Phil .”
Frank reached out the cigarette to Phil and Phil took one from his packet and lit it up .
“Where are you from Phil”
Was the reply .
Frank looked strangely at Phil and said ,
“Where’s that ?”
Phil replied ,
“It’s in Cork . “
“Ok then I’ll call you Cork-Screw Phil .“
Some of the other inmates had been listening to the conversation .
One of them who had a soft Irish accent said ,
“Hey I’m Liam and I’m from Kerry . I’m having some trouble with these desperate headaches. Do us a favour and get me some pain killer tablets . Will you do that for me Cork-Screw Phil ? ”
“No problem .“
Was Phil’s response .
“You’re the man Cork-Screw . Here this is a letter for my Mother in Kerry . Could you post it for me ?”
“I can’t see any problem with that Liam .“
Phil said taking the letter and putting it into his pocket . As he walked away Liam shouted .
“You’re the man Cork-Screw .“
Phil lifted his arm up into the air as if he lifting the Sam Maguire Cup at Croke Park . Then with a sense of achievement he soon finished his shift and went home to the digs his bed and breakfast at the Isle of Dogs
A couple of days later when Phil returned to the lock up shift some of the other inmates came on side with Phil . A few small favours here and there were extended by Phil who handed out some pain killers, cigarettes and book about how to say the rosary .
Bill who was one of the hardest nuts on the block shouted out from the cell ,
“Excuse me Cork-Screw can I have a word with you ?”
Phil walked over to the cell and said ,
“Sure Bill What’s the problem ?” Phil replied .
Bill whispered softly ,
“I have a parcel I want you to pick up for me . I’ll give you the address ok . “
“Sorry I can’t do that . You know it’s against the rules .” Phil replied .
Just at that Bill reached out and grabbed Phil and pulled his head over against the bars . Then he said harshly .
“Listen to me Cork-Screw . You’ll do just what I say otherwise I’ll tell them that you’ve been dealing drugs to all the boys . Isn’t that right boys ?”
Phil looked around at the other inmates who all nodded in agreement .
“That’s right Bill. “ Said Liam .
“And I’ve even got pain killers with his fingerprints all over them .“ Frank said .
Bill released his grip and Phil fell back from the iron bars of the cell . He looked deep into Phil’s eyes as if he were gouging them out with every word he said as he continued .
“So as you can see . If you want to keep you’re job you’ll do just as I say and remember just who is top dog around here . Got it !“
Phil was very shaken . He looked around at the inmates on the block . Some of them ran their fore fingers across their throats . A few of them made hand gun gestures with their fingers and thumbs and pointed it to the side of their heads .
Phil walked away with his head down low . Rejected and disappointed he left work that day . When he returned to the digs that night he went straight to the bar instead of to his room . As the days went on he was a regular at the bar . Usually drinking on his own he found company and security in the drink .
As the blackmail continued in the prison so did Phil’s drinking problem . He thought that if he did as he was asked maybe things would get better . He even though that his drinking habit would go away . Phil cracked and one day when he went to work he went to the top dog of the prison and said to Bill .
“Ok give me the address where the parcel is I’ll pick up what ever you want .“
A wicked smile spread across Bill’s face as he handed over a slip of paper . That was the day Phil’s problems escalated because now he was a slave to the very people he had tried to help out . From that day on Phil was like a dog summoned by its master . Phil increased his drinking . He drank his wage each week and tried to forget what had happened to him since arriving in London . He met up with his fear . When he confronted it with alcohol he fuelled and now it had escalated into a full blown phobic riddled with guilt and insecurity . He was an emotional wreck and people at work began to notice drink on his breath at work .
After giving it a lot of the prison board spoke with Phil . It was resolved that he would be given some leave and a transfer to another prison and so it came to be . Phil was delighted thinking he had the answer . First he would quit the drink and then start afresh in his new job . At last he could see everything would fit neatly back into place .
But Phil’s bottle with the drink wasn’t so hard to win and his new job wasn’t the perfect solution either . Although he had attended some AA meetings he was having problems with his 12 step programs . Even though he and quit drinking he still had issues that would tempt him towards alcohol . It wasn’t going to be an easy battle for him to stay on the wagon . It was now time for him to resume work and on his first day of duty in the new prison Phil was already a marked man . Some of the prison’s ringleaders had somehow been told about Cork-Screw Phil and it was anything goes as far as they were concerned . Daily threats and requests from the inmates drover Phil deeper into his nightmare world . Phil returned to the drink as an answer to his problems . He once again tried to forget his personal grievances and made his way to the bar where he sank like an inmate to the bottom of a bottle . Phil convinced himself that he needed the drink to get along as best he could in the job . Even though Phil’s hands were a little steady now that he was off the wagon the drink was going to help him with the next episode in his life.
It all started one day while the prisoner’s were having lunch. In the canteen a revolt began between the inmates and the prison guards . A few inmates had somehow gained some weapons and one or two of the guards were shot . Phil was taken as used as a hostage in the situation . The prison was now in the hands of the inmates . Three of the select few who called themselves leaders of the uprising barricaded themselves in the wardens office with Phil and began to bargain for special privileges including their release . Like a lamb in the slaughter house Phil’s life was at times hanging on a hook . The talks between the prisoners and the prison authorities went on for days . Phil’s life was on auction in a deadly serious market place .
Phil sat quietly hoping and praying that things would work out . He knew he had to keep cool . He had to depend on his employer to come through for him and the it happened . But not in the way he had expected .
Mad Pat , one of the lifer’s from the maximum security cells walked into the wardens office and shot dead the three prisoners . Phil sat waiting for the next bullet that never came . Mad Pat spoke to Phil in a soft Irish accent.
“Listen here Cork-Screw . My brother Liam tells me you did him a favour in the last place you were at .”
“Liam from Kerry ?.”
Said Phil .
“That’s him . You posted a letter to our Mother in Kerry . That meant a lot to the family and I want you to know we appreciated it .“
Phil tried to talk but Mad Pat put his finger over his lips and continued .
”Now Cork-Screw come with me and say nothing .”
Phil was taken to the roof of the prison by Mad Pat who sat on the edge of the roof . As soon as the TV camera arrived Mad Pat winked and Phil and began to hurl abuse at them . The he walked over to Phil and said ,
“As crazy as it might seem you’re going to be a hero Cork-Screw Phil .“
As Mad Pat put his arms around him he threw himself over the edge of the roof . On the way down he said .
“It has to look good for the TV cameras. “
Phil’ s fall was cushioned by Mad Pat who slowly got to his feet and secretly passed Phil the handgun . Then he raised his hands in the air and backed off
“Ok I give up .“
Mad Pat said just as the cameras arrived . The police were soon on the scene and handcuffed Mad Pat . A microphone was put in front of Phil and questions began to fire in .
“Did you ever think you were gong to make it out alive ?”
“How do you feel now that its all over .“
“I feel like a drink .“
Came the answer . Suddenly Phil dropped to the ground in front of the camera . An ambulance was rushed in and Phil was driven away to the hospital .
As Phil lay there in his hospital bed he watched the late news on TV and saw himself face to face . It made headline news .
“Prison guard fights for his life “
Phil saw himself as a hero and something inside him clicked . Somewhere in the depts. Of his being Phil found the answer he needed . He discovered an inner strength that soon spread over his entire being . Not only did it give him the courage to get off the drink completely but the new person he had found earned a promotion that went a long way in healing the hurt he had inside . A reckoning had been paid and some of the dues were settled .
After a few years on the prison board Phil became a prominent figure in the correctional services and his insight of how things went inside prisons gave him an edge over the others and he was able to make changes in the prison system . He hoped that in doing that he could help somebody somewhere who may find a place called cruelty locked away between kindness and blindness . Cork-Screw Phil went on the wagon and lives on the straight and narrow . A steamboat who sailed away into the sunset .
Imagine if you can a pressure cooker inside your mind , that is boiling under a raging flame fueled by alcohol .
Hugo O'Neil was a thin man with a baby face complexion of 38 years . A family man with three children when he was on the waggon , but off the waggon he was not worth the salt his wife sprinkled on the vegetable soup .
I'll try to explain the two week experience of living inside a refuge with 250 of the hardest dregs in the Docklands of London .